FCC Proposes New Rules for Licensing EBS “White Space,” WT Docket No. 18-120

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) has approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM“) for additional licensing in the 2.5 GHz band. The NPRMseeks comments on increasing the rights of existing Educational Broadband Service (“EBS”) licensees and providing opportunities for educational entities, rural Tribal Nations and commercial entities to access the unused portions of the 2.5 GHz band (commonly referred to as “EBS white space”).  Below please find a summary of EBS and the proposals included in the FCC’s draft NPRM.

Background

The 2.5 GHz band (2496-2690 MHz) is shared between EBS licensees (operating within 114 MHz of the band) and Broadband Radio Service (“BRS”) licensees (operating within the remaining 80 MHz of the band). EBS licensees are authorized to operate on the A, B, C, D, and G channel groups, with each channel group comprised of three 5.5 MHz channels and one 6 MHz channel.  Eligibility to hold an EBS license is currently limited to educational entities and government or nonprofit organizations with an educational mission.  BRS licenses are held by commercial companies.

Under existing rules, EBS licensees may lease their excess capacity to commercial providers for a maximum of 30 years so long as they retain 5% of their capacity for educational use and use each channel at least 20 hours per week for educational purposes (the educational use requirements).  Each EBS license covers a geographic service area (“GSA”) with a 35-mile radius (although many GSAs are much smaller due to overlapping adjacent licensees and historical license modifications).  Incumbent EBS licensees cover only about ½ of the United States in any given channel group. Throughout the rest of the country, mostly in the rural areas in the Western U.S., the 2.5 GHz spectrum remains unassigned.  Over 20 years ago the Commission suspended the processing of new EBS applications and so those areas have remained unassigned.

NPRM

Rationalizing Existing 2.5 GHz Authorizations.  In the NPRM, the Commission proposes redefining each licensee’s GSA as the sum of census tracts that are covered by, or that intersect, their existing GSA.  As an alternative, the Commission proposes expanding existing GSAs to include the counties covered by or that intersect the GSA.  Under both proposals, the Commission seeks comments on whether such expansion should include every census tract/county covered by or intersecting the existing GSA, or whether a census tract/county should only be included in the GSA expansion if a minimum percentage (e.g. 10, %, 25% or 50%) overlaps the existing GSA.  The Commission also seeks comments on how to resolve situations in which 2 or more co-channel GSAs overlap the same census tract/county.

In the NPRM, the FCC further proposes allowing EBS licensees the ability to assign or transfer control of their licenses to entities that are not EBS-eligible. The Commission proposes eliminating the restrictions on EBS lease terms and the educational use requirements for EBS licenses.  Given any new changes to EBS rules, the Commission asks whether the spectrum screen, which excludes 5% of the EBS capacity reserved for educational uses and the EBS white space, should be revised.

Opportunities to Acquire New 2.5 GHz License.  The FCC proposes establishing 3 local priority filing windows for qualifying applicants to apply for one or more channels of EBS white space in areas where the applicant has a local presence.

  • Local Priority Filing Window 1. The Commission proposes first opening a filing window for existing EBS licensees, with a local presence in the county, to expand their license area to the county border.
  • Local Priority Filing Window 2. The Commission proposes next opening a filing window for Tribal Nations located in rural areas with a local presence in the area.  The Commission seeks comment on whether these licenses should be granted on a county level or census-tract-by-census-tract basis.
  • Local Priority Filing Window 3. The Commission proposes opening the third window for accredited educational entities with a local presence that do not currently hold 2.5 authorizations.  The Commission seeks comment on whether these licenses should be granted on a county level or census-tract-by-census-tract basis.

 

For all windows, the Commission seeks comments on what is considered “local presence” and what documentation will be required to prove local presence and on how to process mutually exclusive applications.  For example, the Commission asks should the mutually exclusive applicants be subject to competitive bidding and should there be a settlement period in which the applicants may resolve any mutual exclusivity.  The Commission also seeks comments on whether a holding period on leasing or transferring the license should be imposed on licenses newly acquired through one of the three windows, and if one is adopted, how long should the holding period last.

Performance Requirements for New 2.5 GHz Licenses.  For mobile and fixed point-to-multipoint services, the Commission proposes an interim benchmark of 50% population coverage and a final benchmark of 80% population coverage.  For fixed point-to-point services, the Commission proposes an interim benchmark of 20 point-to-point links per million persons in a license area and a final benchmark of 40 point-to-point links per million persons in a license area.  The Commission seeks comments on when the interim and final benchmark showings should be required.

If you would like additional information on the 2.5 GHz band or are interested in filing comments in this proceeding, please contact Dee Herman (dee@hermanwhiteaker.com) or Clare Liedquist (cliedquist@hermanwhiteaker.com).